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Glycerin

Glycerin

superstar
Also-called-like-this: Glycerol
Irritancy: 0
Comedogenicity: 0

Quick Facts

  • A natural moisturizer that’s also in our skin
  • A super common, safe, effective and cheap molecule used for more than 50 years
  • Not only a simple moisturizer but knows much more: keeps the skin lipids between our skin cells in a healthy (liquid crystal) state, protects against irritation, helps to restore barrier
  • Effective from as low as 3% with even more benefits at higher concentrations up to 20-40% (around 10% is a good usability-effectiveness sweet spot)
  • High-glycerin moisturizers are awesome for treating severely dry skin

Geeky Details

Glycerin doesn’t sound very glamorous but it is a real oldie but a goodie. It’s been used in cosmetics for more than  50 years and it’s a totally natural ingredient that’s also in the outermost layer of our skin (called stratum corneum - SC). 

It’s a so-called humectant type of moisturiser meaning that it helps our skin to cling onto water. A 2005 study has shown that glycerin levels correlate with skin hydration levels, so more glycerin means better hydrated skin.

As newer studies examine glycerin it turns out more and more that it’s not just a simple humectant but also does some other important things: 

  •  It makes sure that the gooey stuff between the skin cells is neither too diluted nor too concentrated (it’s called osmoregulation)
  • It helps to maintain the healthy state of the cell membranes and intracellular lipids (keeping the lipids in a nice liquid crystal state that is optimal for barrier function)
  • It can normalize skin shedding in very dry skin. 
  • It protects against skin irritation (such as washing your face too much and/or too aggressively)

What this all means is that glycerin is a real superstar and helps to maintain the healthy state of our skin in several ways. 

And there is even more. If your skin is severely dry, you have to read this. A large-scale study done with 394 guys and girls with dry skin compared two high-glycerin (containing 25% and 40% glycerin) moisturizers to 16 other popular moisturizers on the market (that had less than 6% glycerin). The two high-glycerin ones won hands down. They had superior, quick-acting hydrating properties and they also seemed to create a “reservoir” of moisture-holding ability in the skin. This means that even after not using the high-glycerin moisturizer the skin stayed hydrated longer compared to all the other low glycerin moisturizers. 

You might think now that this is sooo awsome I will go to the pharmacy right now buy some glycerin and put it on my face. Well, do not do that. 100% pure glycerin is not good for the skin either. Too much glycerin (and in general humectants) might attract water out of the lower layers of the skin. That’s a problem because once water is in the upper layer some of it will evaporate. It’s called trans-epidermal-water-loss (TEWL). If too much TEWL happens your skin becomes dry. :( 

This is confirmed by a study too: skin treated to 99.7% glycerin for 5 days showed that after the treatment the SC (do you remember? it’s the outermost layer of the skin) was not visibly different from the untreated control. The same study also examined skin treated with a 25% glycerin lotion and there the SC had a visibly different, expanded - in other words more hydrated - appearance. 

So the thing to know about the optimal amount of glycerin is this: it is an effective molecule already from 3% (even from 1%, at least when combined with skin lipids), and the benefits tend to increase up until 20-40%. Around 10%, glycerin seems to have a reals sweet spot in terms of effects and usability. This amount is still possible to formulate into a relatively light, non-sticky and not too heavy formula (yes, glycerin is sticky and high % is really hard to formulate into a cosmetically elegant formula) but 10% also shows all the great therapeutic effects including effective moisturization with a reservoir effect, protecting against irritation, maintaining a healthy skin barrier and making the skin just smooth and plump. 

So bottom line: glycerin is a real goodie and far more than a simple moisturizer. In our opinion, it is an underappreciated superstar that deserves more spotlight than it is currently getting. 

Show me some proof

  • Leslie Baumann, MD, Cosmetic Dermatology, 2nd edition, Glycerin- pages 275
  • The Journal of investigative dermatology., 2005 Aug;125(2):288-93., Is endogenous glycerol a determinant of stratum corneum hydration in humans?
  • Dry Skin and Moisturizers: Chemistry and Function, Marie Loden, Howard I. Maibach, chapter 20: Glycerol — Just a Moisturizer? Biological and Biophysical Effects

Products with a known amount of Glycerin

Other products with Glycerin

111SKIN Nac Y2 Restorative Cleansing Balm 111SKIN Nac Y2 Restorative Cleansing Balm 111SKIN Y Theorem Repair Serum Nac Y2 16 Brand Donkey Milk Cream 9wishes Rice Foaming Cleanser ACO Glycerol Aco 200 Mg/G AZ Oral B Pro Expert Acure Incredibly Clear Cleansing Stick Aestura Theracne 365 Clear Deep Cleansing Foam Afterspa 2 In 1: Soap + Sponge Mother Of Pearl Aiken Prebiotice Hydra Plus Facial Cleanser Alba Very Emollient Maximum Body Lotion Algenist Alive Prebiotic Balancing Mask Algenist Blue Algae Vitamin C Algenist Blue Algae Vitamin C Dark Spot Correcting Peel Alterra Reinigungsöl Bio-Alge Alverde Naturkosmetik Pro Climate Toothpaste Ameliorate Resurfacing Facial Cleanser Amway Artistry™ Advanced Creamy Foam Cleanser Anastasia Beverly Hills Clear Brow Gel Aquasoft Ajanta Arcona Men Efficiency™ Arcona Men Overtime™ Aromatica Reviving Rose Infusion Cream Cleanser Artnaturals Luxe Gentle Daily Exfoliator Aspect Pigment Punch Atom Y Evening Care Foam Cleanser Atomy Evening Care Foam Cleanser Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Brightening Anti-Pollution Mask Aveeno Dermexa Fast & Long Lasting Balm Aveeno Skin Relief Nourish & Repair Cica Balm Aveeno Baby Dermexa Good Night Emollient Balm Avene Cicalfate Lips Avene Cicalfate Lips Repair Balm Avene Hydrance RICH Hydrating Cream Azelique Age Refining Sugar Lip Scrub BIOSSANCE Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Mask BOSCIA Charcoal Deep-Pore Cleansing Stick Treatment Bakel Lactobionic Anti-Age Serum Balea Bodycreme Sheabutter & Arganöl Bamford Refining Exfoliator Banish The Banish Oil - Vitamin C Serum Be Plain Bamboo Healing Mask Be Plain Greenful Ph Balanced Cleansing Foam Beautiqlo Noni Deep Cleansing Foam Beauty Glam AHA BHA Peeling BeautyAct PoreDetox Charcoal Mask Bee Naturals Calming Facial Tonic Beekman 1802 Milk Mud Warming Clay Mask Beesline Apitherapy Facial Purifying Soap